Sunday, March 23, 2008

Once a band geek always a band geek

I know you'll find it hard to believe, but I was a band geek in high school. Some things never change. I currently play the bassoon in a local community band.

"What is a bassoon?," you may ask. I know you may ask this because I am asked it fairly regularly. Bassoons are a double reed low woodwind instrument. Here is my bassoon:It is a Fox 220, made in South Whitley, Indiana.

Not only do I play in the band...somehow I became chairman of the board of directors, and have been for three years now. I am "termed out" next September, thank goodness.

I started out on the alto saxophone in intermediate school, and when I got to high school, my band director, Mr. Williams, said, "We have plenty of alto saxes. How would you like to play the bassoon?"

"What's a bassoon?" I asked.

He brought out a case and opened it, and it was love at first sight.

My bassoon. The frog was given to me by the Queen of the Fairies when I played in the pit for a local production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe
He gave me a fingering chart and threw me in the deep end. I played the sax during marching season and bassoon during concert season. Since the school only owned one bassoon, I was the only bassoonist all four years.

I also played sax in the high school Jazz Band. I loved that enough to get up and go to school an hour early for four years. We played everything from Big Band, to Mainstream to Earth, Wind and Fire.

I used to walk a mile home up the steepest hill in Benicia, California with a huge backpack full of books, and a bassoon and alto sax balancing each other on each side. I'm pretty sure it's why I have bad knees now. Did I ever practice them, though? Of course not.

I met my first husband, David, in that band. Well, actually it was in Mrs. Hutchinson's biology class, but I really got to know him over the years in band. He played the French horn. My brother, three years behind me in school, was also in the band and Jazz Band. He played the oboe. And trombone. And flute. He always has to one-up me. Oh, wait. I have two more degrees than he it's the other way around.

After high school I played for a short while at the University of California at Davis, and then David and I played for a while in the now defunct Yolo County Concert Band, but then I stopped playing altogether for about five years.

About ten years ago, David's partner Pete needed a bassoonist for a wind ensemble at UC Davis he was putting together. After about a year of pestering, he finally lured me in with promises of playing the Overture to The Marriage of Figaro. I owe him big time, even though I eventually ended up buying a VERY expensive instrument. I would have a hard time giving it up again.

The band I'm in now is a "Pops" band. We play everything I liked from both bands in high school. Big Band; John Phillip Sousa marches; Broadway Musical numbers; Rock and Roll medleys (The Beatles, Queen, The Village People, etc.); the best of Frank Sinatra; with a bit of classical and ragtime thrown in occasionally. I love it! So do our audiences.Note that my red fuzzy blanket serves multiple purposes. Isis is also sitting on it in the "herding cats" photo.
Concert band vs. Orchestra tutorial

An orchestra has a few wind instruments and percussion and a lot of stringed instruments (violins, violas, cellos, etc.). A band is made up of mostly wind instruments and percussion with maybe a couple of stringed ones. We have a string bass and a harp at the moment, although we have had a few band members complain that a harp does not belong in a band.

Wind instruments are made up of woodwinds - flutes, clarinets, saxes, oboes, English horns, and bassoons, and brass - French horns, trumpets, trombones, euphoniums, and tubas.

And remember: a bassoon is NOT an oboe. People are always getting them mixed up. Bassoon BIG. Oboe small. Oboe sticks out like a sore thumb. Bassoon virtually inaudible in a band (darn brass instruments and saxes drown us out).


Pete said...

An excellent toot-orial!

artificialhabitat said...

It's so easy to fall out of the habit of playing.

I play the trumpet and the cornet, but haven't done so regularly for a few years now.

You don't really realise how much you miss it until you start doing it again.

I really need to pick it up and start playing again. But,as you can imagine, I've been saying that for a while now......

Laurie said...

Too bad Pete lives ~6000 miles away from you because he's good at pestering.

If you ever get really out of practice and end up living near Edinburgh, you can always join this.